The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003)

“Now I know the meaning of addiction.”

After bad reviews begin rolling in for her role as Juliet, aging actress, Karen Stone (Helen Mirren) retreats to Rome with her wealthy husband (Brian Dennehy). Rome is supposed to be a refuge, but Karen soon finds herself facing life alone without the solid protection of her husband. As a wealthy widow in Rome, she becomes the prey of a shady Italian Contessa (Anne Bancroft) who specializes in providing beautiful young men to older, lonely wealthy American women. The Contessa introduces Karen to the beautiful–but petulant–Paolo (French heartthrob, Oliver Martinez).

The original, excellent 1961 film The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone stars Vivian Leigh, and I approached this re-make version with skepticism. When remakes are made of already-excellent films, the remakes tend to be a disappointment. I am happy to say that this remake was not a disappointment–in fact, the remake exceeds the original. While the remake version is faithful to the original film, it also expands upon the story–making it much richer. This newer version explores the physical relationship between Karen and Paolo, and there is some nudity involved. The casting of the three main characters in the film is perfect–Anne Bancroft is the wily, mean-spirited, grasping Contessa. The contrast between her real life and the face she shows to society is shocking. Oliver Martinez as Paolo is perfect in this role. He’s pretty boy-Paolo–and he’d prefer to not think about the nitty-gritty financial details underneath his role with Karen. Unfortunately, financial considerations are a reality for both Paolo and the Contessa. When Paolo starts telling his ridiculous, fictional stories, Martinez actually manages to act the role with an insincerity that is astonishing. But it is the exquisite Helen Mirren as Karen Stone who steals the film. Karen’s humiliation increases as the affair deepens, and she struggles to maintain some sort of dignity and some sort of balance in the relationship. Karen begins using more and more make-up in desperate attempts to keep Paolo interested. When Karen and Paolo are in public, passer-bys look at the couple with ridicule. The sets are luscious, and Mirren’s costumes are spectatular. The only complaint I have concerns the rotten accents (Mirren and Chris, the playwright)–if you can’t do an accent properly–don’t do one at all). This version of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was a delight and fans of the original should not be displeased. From director Robert Allan Ackerman


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